Set sights on net savings
By Charles Abel
GET connected and do it now. Joining the internet revolution offers a wealth of information, easier communications and huge potential for cutting costs, both now and in the future, say farming brothers and internet enthusiasts Jim and Nigel Bullock.
Together, they farm 283ha (700 acres) at Mill Farm, Guarlford, Malvern, Worcs, in partnership with their father.
Farmers in the US are leading the way and UK growers need to follow suit, says Jim. "It is second nature to them. They are using the internet to order spare parts, buy and sell equipment, trade grain, gather advice and keep in touch. Its sure to happen here too."
Internet trading is a big attraction. US dealers already list equipment for sale, including second-hand, showing prices and bids offered. "Hardly anybody does that in the UK yet. But it will come. Some European equipment prices on the internet are 30% cheaper than in the UK and Renault is already providing internet prices in France."
He bought his first tractor on the net last year – a John Deere 7610 direct from Kansas. "Ordering was easy, simply clicking on the model I wanted and providing delivery details. At less than $4 it was just a shame it was a die-cast model!"
Jim admits to being nervous about the security of trading on the internet, but has had no trouble yet. "I use a credit card with a low credit limit to reduce the risk."
US farmers are using CD-ROMs supplied with farm equipment to trace part numbers and prices and locate the nearest dealer with the item in stock. "It is only one step to ordering direct from the manufacturer."
The net is also a good source of information and advice, once the right sites are located. "Some sites are extremely useful, but others are very slow to load or rarely updated. I havent time for those."
News reporting and market prices on FWi are useful and weather information better than on the radio. "Id like even more detailed weather, but at the moment it is not free, so we will wait until it is."
Disease and pest forecasting is too vague and often out of date, he adds. "It could be a lot better and really help us with input decisions. More detailed technical information would be very welcome."
Mill Farm field records are moving to a Muddy Boots system so the field walker can e-mail recommendations from his hand-held notebook computer direct to the farm. Electronic submission of IACS forms is likely once any teething problems have been overcome this year.
Keeping in touch is also easier. "I get four or five business e-mail messages a day. It is much easier than trying to get someone on the phone and it means I can keep in touch with contacts overseas at low cost."
That provides a useful alternative perspective, particularly where new techniques are being tried. "We were having trouble with slugs following the slot of a low-til drill. A US contact suggested pelleting ahead of drilling rather than at the same time and he is absolutely right. Another US user explained how to ensure the slot closes properly. He said to drill only when you can crumble the sides of a spade slot with your finger, which certainly works."
A free helpline is essential, adds Nigel. And be careful loading new software, he advises. Disks which automatically load software already installed on the machine can cause big headaches.
He advises users to get as much software loaded by the hardware supplier as possible. "If you dont you get the hardware supplier blaming the software supplier and vice-versa whenever anything goes wrong."
"But the internet wont solve farmings problems, like Mr Blair thinks," says Nigel. And getting support and training is not easy. "Currently it is mostly by trial and error and reading a few books. Some proper training would be useful." *
• Easier communications.
• Advice and info.
• Price watching.
• Parts ordering.
• Buying and selling in future.
Starting next week we take a closer look at just what is available on the internet. Where are the interesting web-sites? Which are the ones to avoid? What sort of services can be tapped into? What are the likely costs? Watch out for our regular feature over the coming weeks.
First internet buy… Jim Bullock sourced this John Deere 7610 from Kansas in the US over the web. Brother Nigel Bullock (inset) says better advice and training would speed internet use.